To paraphrase that annoying hit dance song “Party Rock,” everyday we’re posturing. What I mean by “posturing” is that our conversations are constant performances of self-definition, at least those that happen in cyberspace where words are all that we are. Because conversation itself has turned into a primary object of our analysis, we do a lot of meta-conversation, talking about talking about things. The Christian blogosphere talks a lot about talking about sin, which is different than talking directly about sin. It is in these meta-conversations that a tired debate cycles endlessly: “Why do we need to talk about talking about sin all the time? Jesus ate and drink with sinners.” “Ah… but he would always tell them to go and sin no more.” Understanding the distinction between talking about sin and talking about talking about sin is critical if we are to avoid talking past each other as seems to have occurred in a recent sin meta-conversation between Rachel Held Evans and Kevin Watson. Continue reading
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “weightier matters of the law”? It sounds like they would be the parts of the Bible that are hard for a modern world to accept. Evangelical Christians in our time tend to litmus-test their faith according to their loyalty to what they see as the “weightier” parts of the Bible that clash with modern sensibilities, whether it’s young Earth creationism, the eternal conscious torment of hell, a complementarian account of gender, or opposition to homosexuality, to name the top four. But what does Jesus say are the “weightier matters of the law” in Matthew 23:23? Continue reading
I often clash with the gatekeepers of Christian orthodoxy. I’m sure that I get under their skin too. To me, they look like the Pharisees Jesus talks about in Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you [who]… shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying.” I wonder what Bible verse they would apply to the caricature of me that they see on their laptop screen. In any case, I thought I would try to express where I’m coming from, to the degree that I’m coming from somewhere and not just being a sinfully impulsive loose cannon. Everything that I’m trying to do (as opposed to the things I do impulsively) is shaped by my understanding of Christian evangelism as Paul lays it out in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Continue reading
If you want to know who God is really angry at, maybe you should read what Jesus has to say about it: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. You yourselves do not enter, and you stop others who are trying. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make him twice the son of hell that you are.” [Matthew 23:13-15] Maybe you’re the Pharisee Jesus is talking about.
A few months ago, a friend wrote a blog asking whether the teachings of Henri Nouwen are “incompatible” with Methodist theology. The way that Nouwen presents the gospel is to say that it’s about hearing God’s voice of love, learning to love ourselves, and leaving behind the sins that are ultimately an expression of self-hatred. When I encountered this teaching in the first Methodist church I went to, it was so refreshingly different from the ruthless perfectionist I thought God was that I became a Methodist. I’ve found that all the Methodist churches I’ve encountered share this Nouwenian ethos. But this seems different than the 18th century Methodism in which the requirement for admission to a Methodist society was “an earnest desire to flee the wrath to come.” So what happened? Have we gone astray? Is Nouwen a false prophet? Continue reading
In contemporary Christian worship, a distinction is often made between worship that is “really worship” versus “just a performance.” For example, does the music invite authentic congregational participation or is it filled with guitar solos, pyrotechnics, and fog machines that make the service a concert that gives people goose bumps for cheap manufactured reasons? I want to look at a different contrast between worship and performance that I see at the heart of the gospel. I believe we were created to worship every moment of every day. The purpose of gathering to sing and pray and learn each weekend is merely to retune ourselves for a week of worship. The problem is that we misunderstand what worship means: we think it’s performing for God, putting on a show to prove to Him that we really believe in Him so that He won’t throw us in hell. But performance is actually the greatest obstacle to true worship, the definition of which is summarized in a single verse — Psalm 37:4: “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It’s not hard to learn how to worship; my three year old son knows perfectly how. The impossible challenge that Jesus died on the cross to make possible is unlearning performance. Continue reading
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This is one of the most radical statements that Jesus ever made. Within it is the revelation of not only Christian but also Jewish morality. I read something similar from Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, who said Torah was always meant to be a gift for the sake of humanity’s flourishing rather than a burden for the sake of entertaining God’s capricious fancy. But in evangelical Christian culture today, it’s as if Jesus never said these words. Because we measure our spiritual credibility according to how toughly we talk about sin, we are invested in making morality burdensome. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the same way in their zeal for the self-justification they gained through the burden of the homage they paid God. What made Jesus’ Sabbath healing so offensive to the Pharisees was not merely His violation of Jewish law but the way that He called out their morality based on conspicuous gestures of “honoring” God by exuding a morality that really did honor God through its compassion for human need. Continue reading